Being that we are a working couple, we celebrated Valentine’s Day last night. We are not big on holidays or gifts, but we celebrate all things with good food. Last night was no different. I’ve been itching to try my hand at a Boston Cream Pie for a while, so Valentine’s Day was as good of an occasion as any. I absolutely love custard/pastry cream in cakes, especially since I typically do not like frosting or icing.
Do you know why a Boston Cream Pie is called a pie when it is actually a cake? In Christopher Kimball’s, The Dessert Bible, he cites Jim’s Dodge’s speculation that early New England bakers originally baked the cake in a pie pan. Kimball suggests that this was because pie pans or plates predated cakes and the common American kitchen was more likely to have pie pans than cake pans.
One persistent problem with cakes in our home is that we are merely two people. While overindulgence sounds like a great plan for taking care of that problem, we do try to eat things in moderation. With this in mind, I adapted the common Boston Cream Pie and a variation of a Martha Washington Pie for our special occasion. (The Martha Washington Pie is a cream cake split into three layers, with pastry cream on the bottom and jam in the middle layer.) In my version that follows, I baked a single 8 inch square cake, and turned it into a four layer, strawberry and cream cake.
For the sponge cake, I halved the French Sponge Cake recipe in Kimball’s The Dessert Bible. Kimball himself admits that this is the most finicky recipe in the book, but if it is done right, the cake is light, spongy and delicious. He’s right, and the hardest part of this recipe is the sponge cake. My adaptation follows in the next three posts, for the components of the dessert.
STRAWBERRY BOSTON CREME PIE
Yield: One 4×8, 4 layer cake (approximately 4 generous servings). You can double this recipe for a full-sized cake, but use 5 eggs instead of 6.
¼ cup cake flour
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt (approx 1/8 teaspoon)
1 ½ tablespoons milk (I used skim milk)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 cup of pastry cream (click here for recipe)
½ cup of strawberry preserves
½ cup of chocolate ganache (click here for recipe)
fresh strawberries (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and adjust the rack to the middle lower position. Grease one 8 or 9 inch cake pan and cover the bottom with parchment paper. I like square cake pans and I grease the bottom with butter, lay the parchment paper on the bottom and grease the parchment paper.
Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt in a small bowl, and set aside.
Warm the milk and butter over low heat until the butter just melts. I did this in 10 second increments in my microwave and it took about 20 seconds. Once the butter just melts, add the vanilla, cover and keep warm.
Separate 2 of the eggs, placing the whites in a large bowl and reserve the 2 yolks and the remaining egg in a separate small bowl. (If you are doubling this recipe separate 3 eggs here). Beat the egg whites with a hand mixer until foamy, then gradually add 3 tablespoons of sugar. I used a hand mixer rather than a stand mixer for this recipe because I wanted more control over the beating with the smaller quantities of ingredients. Beat the whites until you get soft, glossy, billowy peaks. Transfer the beaten whites to a small bowl. Do not over beat. See below for the proper consistency.
Using the same large bowl (you don’t need to wash it out), add the yolks and remaining egg. Beat the yolks and whole egg with the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar. This mixture must be very thick and very pale yellow. This step takes about 5 minutes. If you are tempted to stop at 3-4 minutes, don’t! Keep beating those eggs!
Add the egg whites to the yolk mixture and sprinkle the flour on top. Mix on the lowest speed for 10 seconds. Make a well at the side of the bowl and add the melted butter and milk mixture. Fold with a large rubber spatula, until just combined about 8-10 strokes.
Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake immediately. Bake until light golden brown and the middle of the cake is springy and firm. About 18-20 minutes for an 8-inch pan. Keep an eye on the cake, unlike most other cakes, you DO NOT WANT TO UNDERBAKE this cake because it will collapse. If it does not spring back in the middle, it needs to bake a few minutes longer.
Out of the oven, loosen the cake by running a knife around the sides of the cake. Flip onto a plate, peel off the parchment paper, then flip onto wire rack to cool. Once cooled, cut the cake in half, then slice each half width-wise to create four layers.
Spread strawberry jam on the tops of two of the layers of cake. Place a plain layer on top of one of the strawberry layers, press gently, then spread the top with the pastry cream. Place the plain side of the remaining strawberry layer on top of the pastry cream, press gently. Place the remaining plain layer of cake on top of the strawberry jam, press gently, being careful not to force the custard underneath to ooze out.
Place the cake on a wire rack with a sheet tray under it and pour the ganache over it, allowing the ganache to drip down the sides to cover the cake. Top with fresh strawberries if using. ENJOY!